Friday, December 25, 2009

Unanimated - In the Forest of the Dreaming Dead (1993)

After going back to revisit this Swedish band's debut, I find that it holds up so much better than its follow-up Ancient God of Evil. There is a certainly raw brutality that whittles its melodic elements down to an eerie science, and despite its primal production standards, there remains a dire charm to its songwriting, with a woodsy permeating darkness that clings like a fog to the listener, an almost thematic adherence to its title. In fact, though I was impressed with the band's recent return In the Light of Darkness, I am juggling it back and forth in my mind with this to determine which is better. I believe I'm going to have to call this a draw...

Unanimated were one of the formative bands of the melodic death metal surge in the early 90s, but for some reason they did not strike gold like At the Gates, Dark Tranquillity or the later In Flames. It may have something to do with the band's insistence on keeping it much more in the death metal sphere than the uber catchy songwriting those others would soon commit themselves towards. In the Forest of the Dreaming Dead has its own share of glorious picking lines, but you always feel as if the zombies are about to catch up with you and take you down. Micke Jansson's vocals are gruff and paralytic, and the guitar tones burn with a carnal crunch.

"At Dawn" is an intro with some reverse guitars that shifts into proper acoustics and whispers, before the trotting gait of "Whisper Shadows" arrives like a morning dew over a field of carnage and slaughter. "Blackness of the Fallen Star" has a thrifty, nasty guitar line which would have felt good even on a black metal album, and "Fire Storm" opens with powerful, sweeping organs that create a stark contrast with its bludgeoning old school death metal and thrashing rhythms. "Storms from the Skies of Grief" has a nice Western feel to it, created by the lush acoustics and bluesy opening lead, but soon lurches into a slower paced, death/doom track. "Through the Gates" is another hell-fueled black/death hybrid with some mean guitar lines, and "Wind of a Dismal Past" balances a slow glory to some raging pick-ups.

Those countless graves reminds
Me of the cold in the
Winds that rules the forest
Those countless graves seems to
Rise before my eyes

"Silence Ends" is another cool, but brooding intro piece, with dark ambiance and swelling, tormented tones, prefacing the evil of "Mournful Twilight", with its shadowy, twisting grooves and pure guttural throat horror. The title track arrives in a cloud of fog and batwings, an eerie choral synth striking like the knell of a Satanic church bell before the clasp of its bleeding melodies. "Cold Northern Breeze" takes a turn for the more epic, like a primal pagan metal anthem with majestic overtones, and the album ends with a fairly cool cover of Venom's "Buried Alive", all dirt and crunch and drunken memories.

In the Forest of the Dreaming Dead was pretty good for 1993, when only the faintest traces of this style were starting to emerge out of the more aggressive Swedish death scene led by Entombed and Dismember. There is an edge of black metal aesthetic here, and this is one of those albums you can put in your stereo on a stormy, dark night around a campfire with your friends and totally get high too, while the spirits of the dead gather 'round to mock you.

Highlights: Fire Storm, Storms from the Skies of Grief, Wind of a Dismal Past, Cold Northern Breeze

Verdict: Win [8/10]
(to wake up and to fall back)

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